Hong Kong based underwater photographer Andrew Lau offers tips and techniques on how to shoot mermaids underwater:
Shooting underwater models, mermaids in particular, has become very popular in recent years, and many divers are looking to try their hand at this new trend in photography. Here, I share some of my own experiences with shooting models underwater, in the hope that it will help you to test out new ideas and improve on your photography techniques.
Mastering the basics
Finding a model
First of all, you need to find a model who feels very comfortable and natural when she goes underwater. It’s not easy. Many models struggle to open their eyes underwater, and the photographer can easily read from their face that they are uncomfortable, or even suffering, because of the stinging sensation in their eyes.
Facial expression is one of the main factors when shooting models, so you need to find the right candidate as your underwater model.
Picking a location
When you start out photographing mermaids, I suggest doing your shoots in a shallow pool. It’s not good practice to throw your model into the deep end, so to speak.
After you have found the right candidate, let the model do some simple posing or wear the mermaid tail to swim. Allow your model to relax and get used to the water. In the meantime, you can explain the theme of the shoot and take some test shots.
It is easier to communicate by talking than via hand signals or slate. In shallow water, you and the model can stand up out of water and talk. Practise the pose or theme in shallow water until the model knows exactly what you want to shoot.
After practising in shallow water, you are now ready to hit deep water and start the real shoot.
Shooting in the blue
Keep in mind that a mermaid tail motion is a completely different motion to that of a long freedive fin, or mono-fin. It is unique. Observe the movement of the tail and how the model swims, catch the rhythm of the motion, angle your shot and wait for the correct pose of the model.
Choosing a lens
A model with a mermaid tail is “big” – three metres or more. You will need an ultra-wide lens or diagonal fisheye lens to reduce the water column between you and the model. A zoom lens with zoom gear will work even better.
Mermaids wear mono-fins inside the tail so that they can move quickly underwater. To catch them at speed, set your lens to the tele-side during the beginning of the shoot, and when the mermaid swims towards you, zoom out to have a wider window of time to shoot.
Shoot as many as you can
You should have a desired picture in mind – shoot until you get that shot. Even after you get the picture that you want, keep shooting.
Sometimes the best shot is not the shot that you wanted, but the shot you didn’t expect.
A good strobe allows you to capture more pictures during the model’s single breath. The model holds her breath to swim or pose, so time is limited. Normally, the best strobes have shorter recycle times. The more pictures you take, the higher the chance of you getting a nice capture. Setting the strobes to a different power level can give the mermaid’s tail more texture.
Shooting mermaids or underwater models is just like other underwater photography: You won’t master it in one or two dives. But the good thing is, it’s easier to communicate with a model!
Practise more and you will get better. Enjoy this exciting trend in underwater photography!